John 6:51-58; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
Between the first and second years of seminary, we seminarians are required to do our Clinical Pastoral training. For ten weeks, all of us served as chaplain interns throughout the week, and then each Fridays, we gathered together as a group with our mentor to evaluate how we handled particular situations. Some seminarians served in hospital trauma units, others served in retirement communities. I served in a rural hospice organization from which, I visited patients and their families located all over rural Middle Tennessee.
It was difficult ministry, it was needed ministry, it was rewarding ministry. I recall one patient who was under the care of one of our best nurses. My new patient’s name was Sue, and she was really struggling to get her meds balanced and the pain was at times, unbearable. I sat with her during one of our weekly visits and the slight grimaces on her face hidden only by her forced smile, told me she was in distress. She looked at me with tears in her eyes, but through a deeply committed faith and said, “I give thanks to God that I was able to see that beautiful sunrise today, did you see it Eric?”
When you find yourself in the middle of difficult times, giving thanks to God may be the last thing on your mind, but giving thanks to God, even in difficult times, is a sign of the Spirit of Love, in which we are embraced. Sue was filled with a love beyond imagine, and it was that love that shone through, even in the midst of her pain. Sue gave thanks in all things.
It is easy to give thanks when things are good. When money’s in the bank, the job is going well, there are no health issues, when we have plenty of sleep, lots of food, and all the basics covered. When evidence of abundance abounds all around us, giving thanks to God can be an empty gesture. With a wink and a nod, we gaze up and say, “Thank you Jesus!”
With what spirit are we really filled with in those times? Is that the Spirit of Love or a spirit of being well satisfied, self-fulfilled, or maybe an attitude of “ I deserve all this.” The Spirit of love, which Christ pours out usually becomes most evident in the midst of life, when the bottom falls out. In those times, it may not easy to say, “God, I don’t have much, but for this one meal I have today, I am eternally grateful and acknowledge you r provision.” The Spirit of Christ’s love in the midst of difficulties gives us the strength to express gratitude when we would rather complain. Christ fills us with love, gratitude, and humility and thus, we are filled with the Spirit.
When people start talking about being filled with the Spirit, some of us Episcopalians can become a little antsy or a little uncomfortable. Maybe because when we talk about the Spirit, images of ecstatic spiritual experiences, hand-raising responses, or praise music are conjured up. Evidence of being filled with the Spirit is something we here about throughout scripture. Whether it was Old Testament prophets or the followers of Jesus, people who evidenced a filling of the Spirit, the Spirit of love, were not mere benefactors of that gift, for their own benefit. If you look closely at those moments of spirit filling, each person was being fitted, prepared, equipped so that they might be sent out with a purpose.
The Spirit of Christ’s love fills us not so we become merely a consumer of Spiritual wares, but so that we might become a conveyor of that same love. We as followers of Christ are vessels, exchange agents, conduits of God love. We are filled with the Spirit of love, so that me might “play our role in the mystery of God, ultimately uniting all things under one head in Christ.”1
If we are in fact, all united in Christ, we are not merely a gathering of individuals, that are independent, and separate, who like eggs in a crate, happen to occupy common space. No, the church is a tapestry of individual threads woven together. We are like a cloth, in which the lines that separate our individual gifts, our individual situations, our individual lives become blurred, and the whole takes on a new hue. As such, Christ pours out perfect love on the community so that the community thrives and matures, the community unites in a chorus of voices singing praises to God for all to hear.
We all have a part in the mystery of God’s work of salvation. We are co-conspirators with God, co-creators of grace, who are filled with God’s Spirit that is lived out and through us. The mission of God to bring unity to all in Christ, is the mission of the church. We are not left alone to carry this endeavor out by ourselves. We are empowered, charged, and filled by God’s Spirit to carry out the work we have been given to do, which is to be open books of the Good News. We can surely give God thanks and praise.
My encounter with Sue on that difficult summer day in 2008, reminded me that we should in all things, acknowledge Christ’s love for us. We are filled with the Spirit of love, and that knowledge strengthens and empowers us to face anything; any uncertainty, any fear, any threat. In all things giving thanks, we can with humility and peace say, “God I give thanks to you this day, despite these circumstances in which, I find myself. I give thanks for your love and grace.” “Lord, please give me the strength to live into the virtue of hope and patience . . . give me grace to trust you and praise you in all things.” Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.
1 (Heil, John Paul. “Ephesians 5:18B: “But Be Filled In The Spirit.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69.3 (2007): 506-516. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.)